A Spoonful of Sugar: My Philosophy of Homeschooling

I am often asked about my philosophy of homeschooling. I have come to think Mary Poppins knew best, when she told the children that, “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, in the most delightful way!”

I truly don’t think learning could ever be as nasty to take as medicine, but apparently some teachers seem to dish it out rather distastefully, unfortunately. Think of high school math, chemistry, ancient history . . . In homeschool, we have the privilege of dishing it up deliciously, with a “spoonful of sugar”, so to speak.

I have been homeschooling for 24 years–my goodness! And I can truthfully say it has been quite fun! We were meant to have joy. Happiness is the design of our existence. Learning is fun! Being with your children can be happy times. Teaching them the truth in every subject–from the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ to science to math–brings joy! Watching your children grow and learn and enlarge their talents is wonderfully satisfying.

I can’t think of a richer, fuller, more fun and joyful lifestyle than to have your precious, impressionable children as your best friends who prefer your company. What better daily work could you choose to be involved in than learning about God’s world and his laws and how to grow into a beneficial influence for good among mankind on this earth? I think this lifestyle can bring us to say that we live “after the manner of happiness”.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t often feel overwhelmed as mothers, or feel the burden of our enormous task before us. It is a challenge to homeschool your children, but it can be fun and most rewarding. All homeschooling families have that day that never seems to get started, and there are days when math frustrates my teenager to tears. But, as parents we have assurance that there is no job as meaningful, or as worthy, than to be committed to doing the best for your children so that they have what they need to develop into righteous men and women prepared to go forth and make a difference in this world!

bakebread3There is tremendous joy in moving steadily forward to the realization of this goal. There can be joy and fun in every day of homeschool. The way I see it, my children and I get all the fun. I feel pretty bad for my husband as he doesn’t have a fraction of the fun we have. Together my children and I explore the nearby river bottoms, we sculpt things out of clay, we read an exciting new library book about how Mt. Rushmore was carved. We cook and invent new recipes together, and sing and laugh in the kitchen until we can hardly read the cookbook for the tears from laughing. We read stories about how it pays to be honest. We play math games, and learn to be polite and sensitive to each other. We laugh over the baby’s funny antics, we memorize scriptures, and collect wildflowers to press, we find different kinds of leaves, and all race outside to see a newly discovered rainbow together. We read book after delicious book, making friends with all the inspiring characters of great literature. We take care of our chickens and ducks and cow. We grow huge pumpkins. We discuss politics. We learn to identify God’s signature in all of his creations. We talk and talk and talk and talk together. We are together. Don’t you feel sorry for my husband, too–that he misses out on all of this fun while he is at work?

Let’s talk about ways to maximize the joy and happy times. What can you do to increase your chance of enjoying the homeschooling lifestyle, which is just really another name for “close family life”.

1. Commit Yourself

First of all, I think it takes being committed to the noble calling of Mother/Teacher. That means taking your children’s education seriously enough that you say “no” to the things that would distract you. My friends are invited to come in the late afternoon. I don’t make dental appointments in the morning. I try not to talk on the phone during school time. I just try to keep that time sacred in the sense that the children know that school is important and won’t be bumped, unless there is an emergency. Interruptions and distractions lessen our chance of having a joyful time together.

2. Catch the Vision

It takes catching the vision of the delightful occupation and lifestyle of raising righteous, intelligent children; spending each day’s best effort training and teaching them. Remember that love is spelled “T-I-M-E” to a child. They want and need your time and attention. Learning how to live, development of character and virtues, their disposition and attitude–these are the things they learn from their teacher and companion. That companion is most ideally you. Spending your time with them is how they become like you. If you aren’t perfect, then you can point to the Savior, foremost, and then to all history’s great heroes as models. This is why studying history and classic literature is such a wonderful way to learn: we can be surrounded with greatness in spite of our own weakness.

Daniel, my oldest son, comments (or complains) from time to time that I have raised clones of my daughters. He’s wrong: in many ways, my daughters are better than me. But, he is right in the sense that we are our children’s mentors, their tutors. Whether for good or bad, they watch and follow us. The greatest and loudest sermon that can be preached on the face of the earth is practice. No other is equal to it. R. Evans has said:

Abstract qualities of character don’t mean much in the abstract. It is how we live, how we serve, how we teach our children, what we do from day to day that both indicate what we are and determine what we are; and all the theory and all the speculation, all the quoting of scripture . . . don’t in the final and saving sense amount to very much.

One of my favorite homeschooling scriptures is found in Deuteronomy 11: 18-19:

“Lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul and ye shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up”.

pinocchio-595453_1280We listened together to the original book of Pinocchio in the car as we did our errands one summer. This is nothing remotely like the Disney version. This is the real story of a very naughty and naive puppet, who without the influence of a mother and unwilling to listen to those who would advise him, gets into horrible and constant trouble. As soon as he gets out of one ordeal and feels repentant, Pinocchio meets up with evil companions, a fox and a cat. Pinocchio is on his way to repent to his puppet-maker father for his naughtiness, and has 5 gold coins to give him. Unfortunately, the conniving fox and the cat convince the trusting and naive puppet to bury the gold coins in the ground, so that he can grow a money tree laden with thousands of gold coins. Over and over again, I heard my children exclaim while we were driving and listening, “How can he be so dumb?!” Whether a puppet or a real boy, all children need guidance! They need teaching and virtues and values to live by. No one loves and has such interest in your child’s outcome as you do.

Here I would put out a plea to fathers. I am not asking you to tutor your children, in the sense of teaching them classes. Life seems to be way too busy for fathers trying to earn a living. But, you can work side by side with your children while you are cleaning up the yard, or fixing the car, and in the process teach them so much about how to live and how a man should act.

3. Use the Best Tools

Get the best tools you can for the job. You can’t run a carpenter shop with a dull saw, a broken hammer, and bent nails. Neither you nor I want to go to a dentist with an outdated, old-fashioned hand power drill. Yet many mothers try to wrench an education out of garage sale books that are outdated and dull.

I love to go to yard sales and sometimes I find great stuff. But when it comes to teaching my children, I want the best I can get. These children grow up so very fast. The number of teaching hours and books they can work through is a finite amount. Your career is short. If you do a good job with homeschooling, you are going to work yourself out of a job, because children grow up. I want the healthiest, most life-giving food for my children’s growing bodies. Even so, I want the best quality food for their minds.

food-563110_1280I’d like you to imagine that you are a 9 year old boy in my homeschool. Today we are studying China. You can take your pick of resources, or learning tools. I have a comprehensive, black and white textbook that I picked up at a thrift shop. I know you could learn a lot about China from it if you tried hard. Or, you could choose to learn from many interesting things: a CD of Chinese singing, a costume from China, a video, a doll in Chinese dress, color photos of the Great Wall of China. “Let’s try these chopsticks and Chinese food for lunch.” Excellent resources makes learning so much more effective and joyful. (See my recommended resources for homeschooling in the “What Resources Do I Use?” section of this website!)

4. Take Advantage of the Power of Patterns

Patterns, good habits, and routines make life go smoothly. If you get children into a good pattern, they can operate on “cruise control” and they will go about their day and their work without much urging from you.

writing-110764_1280All of us have probably known someone who holds their pencil wrong and struggles to write. It is just like the tree without a stake that bends in the wind until it has grown into an inflexible trunk. Good patterns taught early to children can make a difference in the amount of joy you have in your homeschool.

My children know the pattern of the school day from the time they are toddlers. They know that the day starts with scripture study. They know that they do chores while breakfast is prepared. They know that after breakfast, they bathe and dress and come to school. They have wall charts in the school room that show the younger children exactly what to do each day. They come into the schoolroom, get their daily work out, and do it.

Summer and vacations always prove to me just how important the routine and pattern is to children. It seems my children can follow the pattern faithfully day after day all winter long, and yet a week of goofing-off seems to take another week of so much stress and reminding the children, just to get back on track. If you want peace in your homeschool, teach your children some good patterns. Be very consistent in training them what you expect every day in homeschool, and you will find that they enjoy the pattern and managing their own time, and you will get far more accomplished in learning together.

One of those good habits needs to be obedience to parents. Without this, it is impossible to be your child’s teacher. This job is best begun at birth, and finished by 8 years old.

5. Build Meaning into their Schoolwork

Accumulation of information is not our goal in teaching homeschool. We want to help our children grasp God’s great plan for mankind, and how we fit into it and what their special part will be. Busy work isn’t the way to do that.

I want to tell you how I teach my children to write. I have tried a lot of methods over the years. We have done worksheets, and games and penmanship practice and creative writing workbooks. But teaching the children to write with a God-given purpose has proven far more successful than anything else.

homeschooling-journalThis is my son Ammon’s journal. He began keeping his journal when he turned 5 years old. I start by having him tell me a sentence that he wanted to write in his journal and I wrote it down for him. Then he drew a picture of what he said. We progressed to writing the sentence in yellow felt pen so that he could trace over the letters in pencil. As he matured and learned to write his letters, I helped him spell and write his own sentence. Incrementally, year by year, he learned the mechanics of writing: letter formation, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, good sentence structure, writing a paragraph, and other English skills.

 

This writing is meaningful. At the end of each year, we take these journals to the printer to be bound. I remind my children as they write, that their children and grandchildren will read it someday, and learn to know them through their journals. I often remind them of how delighted their children will be to read all about their life and adventures. It helps them feel motivated to do neat work. We also share their finished journals with grandparents and friends.

I find my children making lists of important things they want to remember so they can write them in their journal. This journal is becoming an important family history for generations to come, and my child is learning to read and write as well. If you can get your child to catch the vision of where he is headed in homeschool–that we aren’t just doing English, but that we are writing a book for our posterity, for example–then there is a greater chance for joy in learning.  (See my Journal and Language Arts program.)

6. View Opposition as Good Practice

Training children is rigorous work. I don’t think any of us thought it was going to be so hard as it is. Yes, parenthood also has its moments of great joy. But each child is born with an independent will and trying to help them bridle and use it for good can be an exhausting job. If we could just see opposition or difficulty with our children as good practice, practice in learning or teaching to obey, practice in refining our communication skills, practice in being better Christians. . . perhaps we wouldn’t feel so bad about the hard times. We are in a family to learn. We have to experience the “whole enchilada.” Trying to duck out of it doesn’t seem a practical way to become more Christ-like.

Whenever people find out that I homeschool, it seems that their pat answer is, “Oh, I don’t have the patience for that”. I have found myself secretly wanting to answer back to them, “When do we plan on developing the patience with our children? Better now than later.  Let’s do it until we get it right.”

7. Look to Truth

bridge-19513_1280If we are looking for joy, we must look to the Lord. I have never experienced greater joy than when I feel that warm, clean and full-of-light feeling that comes from the Spirit. Whenever truth is taught, the Spirit promises to witness to it. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth . . . ” (John 16:13). As we inculcate scriptural principles into every subject, we will be blessed with the joy that comes from having the Spirit testify of truth. No subject is boring when the Spirit is present!

We are in such a unique position. Never before in the history of the earth has mankind lived in such a time of revealed truth! We have access to truth. When we teach astronomy, we have Abraham’s great understanding of the galaxies and solar system to enrich us! When we discuss political issues of the day, we have the scriptures to tell us that God approves of our Constitution. When we teach countries and peoples, we have the scriptures to remind us that we are all literal brothers and sisters and all are alike unto God—black and white, bond and free are invited to Him. When we wonder why we have to even study and learn anything at all, we can turn to the doctrines that all knowledge and intelligence rises with us in the resurrection. “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come”.

I am a structured homeschooler. I assign my children their daily work that must be done. But, every subject can be enriched and a joy to learn if you are there learning right along with them. I also teach them the “law of appeal”. I want them to obey, but as long as they move to obey, and are respectful, they can “appeal”. So if a subject is not interesting to them as it is presented in the book or program I have assigned, they are welcome to ask respectfully for something of more enjoyment to them. And I try to accommodate. We want to enjoy this learning time together!

I do hope that you can add a “spoonful of sugar” in your homeschool, and that homeschooling will be a great joy for your family. Joy comes from the companionship of the Lord, the company of your precious family, and in knowing we have been a useful instrument in raising intelligent children that love the Lord. It has been an incredible blessing to me to homeschool my children!

 

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Educational Goals Worksheet

Here’s a simple worksheet you can print off and use to identify your educational goals, and the resources you can use to plan your homeschool!

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Homeschooling Myths

Ammon makes a souffle!

I was talking to a young mother that was considering homeschooling her little family, especially her oldest, a very bright 4 1/2 year old. As I discussed her concerns and questions, her ideas sounded very familiar. I realized that I had said those same things and thought that way a long time ago! New homeschooling moms often have the same questions and some of the same ideas. I pondered our conversation for a long time afterwords—what happened to those ideas of mine? How had my homeschool evolved to where it was now, in the years that I’ve been teaching my children? There were definitely myths that had to be dispelled, as well as some good ideas that really worked.

Myth #1: Cooking for Math

I usually hear the enthusiastic comment, “We could do cooking for math!” from those new to homeschoolng. I thought that too when I began. Now that my oldest is 23 years, I want to vouch for the fact that cooking for math is a sweet idea, but it just isn’t complete enough. Yes, it is fun to cook, and you do get familiar with some fractions (1/2 cup, 1/4 tsp., etc.). You can double or triple a recipe (multiplying by 2 or 3) or even increase a recipe to fit the number of eggs you have (proportions). You can figure out how much a meal costs, or learn which can of tomato sauce at the grocery store gives you the most for your money (unit price). All this application of math to cooking takes a lot of masterminding by Mom. My kids were more interested in getting the cookies in their tummies than figuring out fractions while we cooked. Cooking is a wonderful and essential life skill. But cooking is not math, and does not prepare your child for the real world as far as math skills go. Not in the least!

Myth#2: One Room Schoolhouse

Ammon & Louisa at the Statue of Liberty

Ammon & Louisa at the Statue of Liberty

Another quaint idea is that we can run a “one room schoolhouse”. I like that idea. It sounds warm and cozy and a lot like Little House on the Prairie. In reality, you can do some fun and exciting unit studies together with children close to the same age or understanding. But little ones get very restless and older ones are bored and feel they are wasting their time if you try to teach them all the lessons. You can keep the family on the same topic. If you are studying Greece, the young ones can learn about it as well as the older ones, but each level of understanding must be enriched and challenged with age appropriate information for real learning to take place. If you don’t have textbooks doing it for you, you are asking for a lot of lesson preparation and research.

Myth #3: Older Ones Teach the Younger Ones

Wow, that always sounded like a dynamite idea to me because I have lots of children and not so much energy and time. This idea has merit in the fact that the teacher often learns the most when a lesson is presented, due to the preparation time and effort. However, teaching is a skill (as we who teach homeschool know too well—when our own teaching is less than dynamic.) It takes maturity and understanding the level the students are on to be able to teach a good lesson. When I have my older children teach my younger children, I do it for the sake of my older children. I assign it so that the older children will learn to teach children well. It takes them a long time to prepare. They do not have the experience or ability to judge well how long to make the lesson, how much material to prepare, and how to catch the interest of the younger children. Older children can also become quite frustrated (just like Moms do) if their students don’t pay attention, don’t participate, or misbehave. So, it becomes a lesson in teaching and the topic of study is not the issue. From my experience, don’t count on the idea that older children will be surrogate teachers and give you more time. It takes me more time to help prepare my older child to teach, than it does to teach it myself. But it is a very valuable way to help your older ones learn, and the little ones enjoy a change of pace too.

Areas where an older child can be very helpful are: listening to a younger child read aloud, correcting a math facts page, playing a math game or doing a puzzle with a younger child, or watching a piano piece played to make sure it is done correctly. In all of these activities, unless your older child is advanced far beyond the younger, some mistakes may be overlooked: the teaching is not very thorough.

Myth #4:  Write Your Own Curriculum

I remember vividly my first visit to a Homeschool Counselor at her store. She outlined a program for my children, listed and stacked the books and added up the total. I appreciated her advice, but when I saw the total price, I flipped. I figured I could do it on my own, using library books, shopping yard sales for books, and writing my own custom-fit curriculum for my children. Looking back, I now realize I would have been far ahead had I bought those books that seemed so costly and started my children on a ready-made program. Until I had much more experience.  It would have given us a wonderful jumping-off point, and as I learned what my children enjoyed, I could (and have) customized their curriculum.

You can write your own curriculum. Anybody can. It just takes years of homeschooling experience and teaching experience and knowing children—what is age appropriate, what they are interested in and enjoy at each stage, how to motivate them, and what they will need to know for life.

When I began homeschooling, I barely understood these things for my own self, let alone for my children. I spent a year or two of homeschooling trying to do it without textbooks or a program. I thought up topics and made up worksheets spending many nighttime hours. I made long library trips, trying to gather materials, gleaning a few pages from each book. It took major preparation time and it seemed the children could whip through the assignments I created in a fraction of the time it took me to pull them together. Mothers are busy! Trying to create my own curriculum was more than working a full-time job. I just couldn’t keep up with my other duties and try to create a custom-made program, inexperienced as I was.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate using textbooks for homeschooling and ready-made programs even if they aren’t perfect. Some things I have created by myself, but only if I could justify the time spent by sharing them with others who are homeschooling. It only makes good sense to use the things that other experienced educators have written that have stood the test of time.

My favorite math-facts resource, still, after 25 years of homeschooling!

My favorite math-facts resource, still, after 25 years of homeschooling!

Math-it was my first curriculum purchase. I have used it in homeschooling my 7 children and it has saved me countless hours. It would have been foolish to try to reinvent such a useful program for teaching the math facts.

Having children who have “graduated” from homeschooling has greatly altered my perspective. Now I see the short years of homeschooling as precious time that I don’t want to experiment with. I use only the best resources and budget money for the homeschooling materials just like I plan money to purchase the healthiest food. Children can only learn or eat so much during the years you are setting it before them. It should be the highest quality so they will have the best growth.

Myth #5: They Can Still Keep their School Friends

Maybe this works for some homeschoolers, but it hasn’t worked very well for us. My first 3 children were in public school when I decided to do homeschooling. I just assumed that my children would continue in their relationships with their school friends. In fact, because they could get their work done within school hours and had no homework, I thought perhaps they would have more time to play and be able to increase their friendships.

That didn’t work for us, not with one of my children. Why? Because public school is a mini-society that consumes the attention of the children who attend. Everything revolves around who said what on the playground, which teacher is hard, the fight at recess, who is having a test on Friday and the activities and sports—which pretty much leaves your homeschooling child out of the conversation. As they grow up, homeschooling children may find less and less in common with their public school friends because their values often diverge.

We are working hard to teach our homeschooling children values, virtues, manners and religion. Our values are reflected in every lesson, whether science or English. But even good Christian children get a worldly flavor in the public school system: being taught the details of AIDS and same gender attraction, copying the clothing fads, going to rock music dances, feeling pressure to wear immodest prom dresses, racing for the highest grade rather than valuing true education, and more. These experiences create a very different child, and the divergence is more apparent year by year. My 5 to 7 year olds play happily with the children who go to public school. By the time they are 8, 9 or 10, the rift is becoming too great and my children enjoy friendships with other homeschooling children the very most.

Myth #6: Community Classes Will Provide Social Life

It sounds like a good idea, but most of the children who attend community classes also attend public school, and so the same differences I just discussed will also plague your child’s involvement in community classes. Besides, kids need some relaxed and unstructured time to talk and get to know each other and most often, every minute of a class is pretty busy and occupied and talking is usually discouraged. Another drawback: many children take a class with a friend so your child may be a third wheel. Over the years, my children have been involved in many types of lessons: dance, gymnastics, choir, drama, science workshop, swimming lessons and more. They are friendly and talkative.  I’ve taught them to reach out and be the first to strike up a conversation and be a friend.  I’ve seen them in action.  But, attendance at all these lessons never did truly foster a friendship.  You need frequent hours together to create a friendship.  I am not saying that a friendship couldn’t result, but if the class only meets for an hour once a week, it isn’t as likely.

 

Looking for what works in homeschooling? Read Homeschooling Ideas that Work!

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First, a Relationship

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“First we have a relationship, then we have an educational method.” —Karen Andreola

And so it is. As homeschool moms, we sometimes get involved trying to figure out what philosophy to follow, what type of teaching we should do, or what curriculum we should select. We eagerly read books, buy curriculum, and “try on” educational methods as if we were shoe shopping. But no “shoe” fits until we have established a warm, loving relationship. No method can make up for a strained relationship with your child, your student. Until the relationship is working right, the educational approach doesn’t really matter very much at all.

So, instead of focusing on what educational philosophy or curriculum you are going to use in your homeschool, think instead of how you are going to build your relationship with your child. Brainstorm ways to reach each child’s heart. Co-operation and a desire to follow you will come naturally when the relationship is strong! As you bind your children’s heart to you in love, you will be creating the very best environment for learning, no matter what method you end up choosing.

Here’s some ideas for knitting your hearts together:

*Listen and give eye contact when your child talks to you.

*Take a walk and hold hands.

*Give a sincere compliment.

*Smile.

*Lay on her bed and talk while she is getting ready to go somewhere.

*Look at what he has put on his bedroom walls and comment positively.

*Say “yes” whenever you possibly can.

*Give her a shoulder rub when you are sitting together.

*Ask him to cook with you, and let him choose the meal.

*Sit on the floor next to your child while she is building with legos or playing dolls.

*Tell another how capable (or kind, or helpful, etc.) he is—loud enough so he can overhear you.

*Resist the urge to set something straight (his hair, his room, the way he set the table, etc.)

*Actively encourage your child in following his special interest by getting him the necessary supplies, mentor, books, and opportunities.
(This, more than anything else I have done, has spoken “love” to my eager, curious sons.)

*Read aloud together.

*Remember your child is young and trying to figure out life. Be forgiving.

*Go swimming together.
(Sometimes we moms are a bit reluctant to get our hair wet or to put on a swimsuit, but it really is a playful, bonding time.)

*Don’t criticize ever. If he needs instruction, do it privately and kindly, reassuring him of your love.

*Make something together—a candle, a skirt, a clay sculpture, a pizza . . .

*Listen.

*Listen.

*Listen.

 

 

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